A Clear, Sweet Tone

by AbsoluteAnonymous

First published

Sweetie Belle tries to bridge the distance between herself and her sister.

Once, there was a little unicorn filly who was scared of many things. Almost every night, she found herself unable to sleep and could only be comforted by the singing of a certain lullaby. Years later, long after Rarity left home to pursue a career, Sweetie Belle tries to find a way to reconnect with her older sister, but that's proving to be more difficult than Sweetie expected. A tie-in with Ambition.

A Clear, Sweet Tone

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Her oldest memory was of a song and a voice.

The memory took place back when she was only a foal. She was far too young at the time to have had any words for what she could see and hear; it was only later that she was able to think of what names to put to the objects in that earliest, half-recalled memory. Only later that she was able to understand what the rhythm of those flashing lights and cracking roars meant.

It meant thunder. Storms.

But at the time, it meant only fear.

Darkness all around; the sound of rainfall filling the space between thunderclaps, the window rattling in its frame, all while one little filly - still too young to know what those frightening things actually were, still too young to do much more than cry - huddled under a blanket and whimpered.

And then, the door slowly creaked open. In crept a phantom, a phantom that glided into her room as silently and gracefully as a cloud drifting across the night sky. There was the feeling of a hoof in her hair, slowly beginning stroke her mane, and a voice, soft and low, beginning to sing.

At the time, all she could really understand was the overwhelming feeling of comfort that was brought upon by the phantom’s gentle touch and sweet voice. Somehow, that was all it took to eliminate her fear of the storm outside.

It was only later that she began to understand the true shape of the song; only later that she could remember the song for what it was. Not merely a chain of pleasant, disconnected sounds, but words with actual meaning and feeling to them. Only later that she could recognize the song when she heard it, drawing from those hazy recollections in the furthest corners of her mind.

"Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to go to bed."

The words wrapped around her like a blanket, soft and warm and familiar, protecting her from the midnight fears that kept her awake.

"Drifting off to sleep,
Exciting day behind you.
Drifting off to sleep,
Let the joy of dreamland find you."

Keeping her safe from everything that could hurt her.

From the dark. From storms. From loneliness.

"Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to go to bed."

The voice.

So clear and sweet and full of love.

A final stroke of her mane, and the mare who'd been singing leant forward, placing a soft kiss on her forehead.

"Don't be scared," the mare whispered. "Nothing can hurt you here. I'll keep you safe. Go to sleep."

She was already drifting.


Mom says she is very worried about you. I am not worried but maybe I'm a little sad? I would like it if you wrote back please. I miss you very much. I hope you like the cookies because I helped bake them and they are only a little burned. Mom says they are good but I want to know if you think they are good too.

Please write back. I love you.

Your sister Sweetie Belle


For such a simple missive, it had been surprisingly difficult to write - not only because Sweetie's magic was still fairly weak and writing with a pen was a bit of a struggle for her, but also because she hadn't really known what to say.

It had been so long since her sister had deigned to reply to these weekly letters. None of them really knew how she was doing. All they knew was that Rarity must be fairly successful. After all, her designs were worn all over Equestria, and that wasn't something one could easily ignore. Not only that, but the occasional visits they made to her boutique in Ponyville revealed a life of luxury that she had built for herself from nothing.

She was successful. That much they knew. But whether or not she was happy was a whole other story.

Sweetie chose to believe that her sister was happy, no matter how much her parents quietly fussed and worried from a distance. Because otherwise, she couldn't possibly see how it had been worth it. After all, Rarity loved her and their parents; she never would've left them if there hadn't been a reason.

She'd written her weekly letter, and maybe this time, Rarity would answer. Rarity had just been busy before; that was all. She wasn't trying to ignore them. And Sweetie had done her very best to bake the best cookies she'd ever baked, so Rarity was sure to love them.

Everything would be okay in the end. She knew it.

The fears that kept her up at night - that maybe Rarity had left for a reason, that maybe she stayed away because of something Sweetie had done - were nonexistent during the day, especially when she had a letter to send. Even if Rarity didn't answer, the week stretching out before Sweetie brimmed with the promise that maybe, just maybe, she would. With the hope that maybe this time her big sister would remember her.

Sweetie Belle magically rolled her letter into a scroll, sealing it, humming cheerfully to herself as she skipped out of her room to mail it.


The song in her heart was a silly way of putting it, but that's what Apple Bloom had once called it once, and that's how Sweetie Belle had ended up thinking of it, and so it stuck.

As silly as it was, it seemed accurate, to an extent. As though there was a melody playing somewhere nearby, a pulsing rhythm and beat that shook her to her very core that nopony else could hear but which she could almost never resist the urge to dance and sing along with.

She could hear the music wrapping all around her, as though she were swimming in a sea of it - notes and scales and clefs. Not just the old standards that could be played out on ordinary instruments, but the music that shone in the tiniest aspects of everyday life; the music of running water bubbling in a stream, or of rustling leaves in fall.

But nopony else seemed to notice the way the sounds of the world came together so perfectly. Maybe it really was just a song in her heart. Or maybe in her head. Maybe she was imagining it after all.

The love of music had been in her from the very beginning. Even though she wasn't very good at singing or able to play any instruments, not to mention she was too shy to perform, Sweetie Belle was nonetheless drawn to musicians and melodies.

Where it had come from, she had no idea - after all, neither her mother nor father were especially musical themselves. They'd always encouraged her, such as by asking her to sing for them or suggesting that she sing in school talent shows, but they lacked any natural talent and couldn't afford to hire a proper voice coach for her.

But although she hadn't been raised in music the way she might have liked, Sweetie was convinced of one thing.

The lullaby.

It had all started with the lullaby.

Her love of singing - the feeling of security that music brought her - must have stemmed from those long dark nights as a filly when she'd had the lullaby sung to her, a voice to soothe her in those darkest moments of fear and self-doubt.

It had stayed with her all throughout her foalhood. Even as she grew older, Sweetie Belle couldn't help but continue to feel that same affinity for sound that drove her to find song wherever she could, and it was all because of that lullaby.

Music was safety, warm and comforting. If she had music, then she never needed to feel unloved.


Sweetie Belle mailed the letter, and a week passed with no response.

Actually, no. That wasn't true. There had been a response, but it had been so empty, Sweetie Belle had decided not to include it in her private tally of how often Rarity chose to answer her increasingly desperate please to rekindle some semblance of sisterhood between them.

But that sounded bitter, didn't it? And she felt no bitterness; definitely not. Sadness, maybe. Confusion. Even worry, despite what she'd said in the letter, but not bitterness. Not anger.

I apologize for not writing more frequently, the note had said. But I've been incredibly busy, you see. Running a boutique is quite the responsibility, especially when you're also the sole designer. Although I suppose that's why they call it 'business,' after all.

On the surface, it had been the perfect response. Rarity had always been good about etiquette like that. But upon closer inspection, it failed in many respects; mainly, in that it didn't address a single element of Sweetie's initial message. As far as the little unicorn knew, her older sister hadn't read it at all, and had only hastily scrawled out a reply in guilty. Somehow, that seemed worse than if Rarity hadn't answered at all.

At the bottom of the page, Rarity had signed her name in an elegant flourish. No closing sentiments of any kind. No sincerely yours or yours truly or love.

But like all the others she had received, Sweetie Belle would keep it. After all, these exchanges, as cold and impersonal as they could be, were the only evidence she had that her sister still existed. That somewhere, deep within the tangled mess of identities and ambitions that she'd woven around herself, was the pony Rarity had once been. A pony who had protected her sister from anything, and who had once sung her to sleep with such a strong, beautiful voice that had imbued in Sweetie a love of music. Her sister had simply gone away for a while, and soon, Sweetie Belle would find her again. She just had to be patient.

Even if Rarity hadn't eaten the cookies after all.

And so the weeks passed - quiet, boring, and lonely, with Sweetie sending letters that were either ignored completely or negated by false responses, brightened only by school and her friends. But then there came a day when her mother and father sat her down at the kitchen table, sitting across from her themselves in a way that made her fear they had something important to tell her. Important tended to be synonymous with bad.

"Sweetie," her mom had begun. Sweetie Belle had never been sure if her name was intended to be a term of endearment when used that way. "Your father and I wanted to tell you that we'll be goin' on our annual vacation soon, and we've asked your big sister Rarity to watch you while we're gone! You'll get to spend a week together! Isn't that excitin'?"

Her big sister Rarity. Somehow, the way her mother had phrased that felt awkward, as though she had felt the need to specify which Rarity she was talking about, in case Sweetie didn't remember.

"Rarity?" Sweetie Belle repeated eagerly. "Really? A whole week? Oh, boy!"

"We knew you'd be excited!" Her father declared, beaming, sounding satisfied as he leaned back in his seat and grinned. "Just think, after so much time... "

He trailed off.

It had been a very long time.

But although Sweetie Belle had barely been able to restrain her glee at the prospect of being reunited with her sister, Rarity had an expression of outright distaste on her face when they'd pulled up in front of the boutique a few days later; one that she tried to mask with a perky smile, true, but she couldn't hide the irritation in her eyes.

"Thanks again, Rarity!" her father jovially called from the wagon as he pulled away, leaving the two estranged sisters to stare at one another in awkward silence.

"Well," Rarity had said after a moment, still beaming in that fake-cheerful way, eyes flickering back and forth between Sweetie Belle and her luggage. "Well. I suppose first things first, yes? Let's get you all settled in!"

As though there hadn't been almost a year of silence between the two of them, and they could just slip back into the role of sisters that they'd once played so well.


Her oldest memory may have been of a song and a voice, but there was one that was just as vivid in her mind. She was young, still, but not so young as to not have had any words. In fact, the memory was of her asking Rarity a question.

About a year and a half earlier. The two of them in Rarity's bedroom back home. Not in the boutique in Ponyville, but in the house where they'd grown up together with their parents; home.

There had been an open suitcase on Rarity's bed, and the white unicorn had been muttering to herself, growing increasing flustered as she'd rummaged through her closet and dresser drawers, trying to find everything she needed. Although their family had been decidedly middle-class, that hadn't stopped Rarity from finding luxury wherever she could, and she'd ended up with quite a collection of small comforts. Even though she never had an occasion to wear them, her wardrobe was massive, consisting of possibly hundreds of gowns and scarves and hats and shoes, many of them made by herself.

And Sweetie had stood nearby, watching.

"Let's see, let's see... oh, if only I could bring everything with me! It will be like I'm truly starting over... how could anypony possibly decide between these two... "

Rarity trailed off. She hadn't been speaking to Sweetie, anyway; more to herself. She'd always been extroverted, needing to vocalize her thoughts in order to properly get them together.

"Rarity?" Sweetie Belle finally asked.

That was all it took for Rarity to apparently completely forget what she'd been doing and freeze, jerking her head upright, as if only just then noticing that Sweetie was in the room with her. "Yes? What is it?" she'd asked, smiling. Back then, her smiles had always seemed real, unlike the empty ones Rarity now gave.

"Why are you leaving, again?"

And Rarity returned to packing, carefully folding the dress she had hanging suspended in midair before her with her magic. As if that wasn't a serious a question as it might have been.

"We've already talked about this, remember?" She said patiently. "I want to start my own business. It's my dream to become a fashion designer, and I can't exactly do that if I'm still living at home. I need my own place. My own shop. I need to start fresh."

"You can start fresh here, can't you?"

Rarity laughed gently, placing the now-immaculately folded gown into the suitcase. "That would defeat the purpose a bit, I'd think."

"But... we'll miss you. Mom and dad will. And me, too."

Something about the plaintive way Sweetie Belle spoke must have caught Rarity's attention, because Rarity set down the hat she'd been examining and practically marched over to where Sweetie stood. There was a fierce glint in her eye, and for a moment, the little unicorn hadn't been sure what her sister was going to do; but then Rarity swept her up into a tight hug.

"I'll miss you, too," Rarity said gently, her eyes shining with tenderness. "More than anything. But we'll still be sisters, darling! No matter what!"

"Promise?" Sweetie Belle asked. Her voice was muffled, partially from the way her face was buried in Rarity's neck in the embrace and partially from the way she was forced to whisper, the sudden wave of grief she felt threatening to overwhelm and choke her.

"I promise. We won't forget one another. We'll be as close as we ever were."

At the time, the words had seemed true. After all, Rarity had never had cause to lie to her before. And so Sweetie had smiled and blinked back the sudden tears, forcing down the loneliness in the face of her sister's reassuring smile.


"Why do you have to be so busy?" Sweetie Belle cried. "I only get a week to see you, and you've spent the whole time working so far!"

"Well, I'm sorry, Sweetie Belle," Rarity snapped. "But it's not my fault! I have so much work to do, and it was rather inconsiderate of mother and father to deposit you here with hardly any warning while they run off on vacation somewhere, if you ask me! Not that they ever do," she added in a dark tone.

"Can't you take a break? If you run the store, you can take breaks whenever you want to, right?"

"Sweetie Belle, this is my livelihood. I can't shirk my duties whenever I feel tired! I need to get this done, or else I'll lose my profits and my customers! Now, can't you please go find something to do? Why don't you go visit those little friends of yours? I need a few more hours to work in peace."

"But - "

A hoof slammed on the table. "Sweetie, please!"

Sweetie Belle fell silent.

For a moment, neither of them spoke, the only sound in the boutique being the sound of their breathing. But at last, Rarity sighed and turned around to face her sister, removing her red spectacles in order to give her a wan smile.

"I'm sorry, dear. I'm a bit tense right now because I'm approaching a deadline. This really wasn't a very convenient time for me to have you here, I'm sorry to say."

I don't want you here, Sweetie heard.

"But... I would like to spend some time with you at some point. It's just... not at the moment. I have too much to do. What if you go and play with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo for the afternoon? And then..." A slow smile spread over Rarity's features as inspiration struck. "What if you invite them over for a sleepover tomorrow? We can all play together then. You can stay up late and I can give you girls makeovers! Wouldn't that be nice?"

"Really?" Sweetie Belle cried. "You mean it? Really and for sure?"

Rarity nodded. "Yes, really and for sure, as long as I can finish what I have to do here. And for now, you ought to run along and find your friends, all right?"


Sweetie Belle sprung forward and gave her sister an affectionate nuzzle.

"Thank you so much, Rarity!"

Rarity smiled in return, but said nothing.


"Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to go to bed."

The words wrapped around her like a blanket, soft and warm and familiar, protecting her from the midnight fears that kept her awake.

"Drifting off to sleep,
Exciting day behind you.
Drifting off to sleep,
Let the joy of dreamland find you."

Keeping her safe from everything that could hurt her.

From the dark. From storms. From loneliness.

"Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to go to bed."


"Where'd I put that? Ohh, I thought I already... ohh, and I can't forget I've got to - oh, how am I ever going to get this done?"

"Are you sure I can't help? I could - "


"Maybe just a - "

"No thanks!"

"How about - "

"Just stand over there."

"But - "

"Where you'll be out of the way. Ribbon, ribbon! Where's the ribbon?!"

"I got it! ...whoa!"


"Um, I-I'll just go and stand over there, where I'll be... out of the way."

Rarity sighed in frustration, and Sweetie Belle fell silent.


The voice.

So clear and sweet and full of love.

A final stroke of her mane, and the mare who'd been singing leant forward, placing a soft kiss on her forehead.

"Don't be scared," the mare whispered. "Nothing can hurt you here. I'll keep you safe. Go to sleep."

Her sister Rarity smiled at her in the dark, and Sweetie Belle felt safe.

It was only then that she could close her eyes and let herself sleep.


"Sweetie Belle! What have you done? That was the last of the gold silk! Oh, now I'll have to make more! Oh, I hope I can make more. I'm going to have to work all night! Which means... sorry, girls, I'm afraid the Crusaders sleepover is canceled."

"What?" Sweetie Belle cried.

Rarity sniffed, giving a haughty toss of her mane. "I just won't have any time to watch you if I want to get these robes delivered on time."

"But - "

But it wasn't about watching them. It was about Rarity spending time with them.

"No buts this time," Rarity cut her off. "I'm sorry, Sweetie Belle; it's just the way it has to be."

And then, Fluttershy interrupted in that soft, borderline whisper of a voice.

"I, ah, I suppose I could take them for the night."


Hush now, quiet now...


"How're we gonna find our special talent in our sleep?" Apple Bloom complained, even as she pulled the blanket closer to her chin, snuggling deeper into the folds.

Fluttershy blew out the candle, plunging the room into a soft kind of darkness that wasn't frightening at all. "Maybe you'll have a lovely little dream about your special talent," she suggested sweetly, an loving smile touching her lips as she glanced over at the three of them with affection.

"But we're not even tired!" Scootaloo whined, already beginning to squirm under the quilt.

"How about I sing you a lullaby?" Fluttershy offered.

Exchanging a quick glance, the three crusaders began to nod and murmur their agreement, and the yellow pegasus cleared her throat with a delicate ahem.

And she began to sing, in a clear, sweet tone.

"Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
It's time to go to bed."

"I know this one!" Sweetie Belle cried, unable to restrain herself. The moment Fluttershy had begun singing, she'd felt such an overwhelming burst of nostalgia and excitement. Music was the strongest memory; all it took was a sound - a single note, a simple chord, a momentary phrase - and there she was, back in the time when she'd first heard it. All it took was one verse of an old, simple lullaby for her to remember all those late nights when her sister had crept into her room to comfort her when she couldn't sleep. To remember comfort and love and the absolute joy of having somepony close by to share that with.

"Oh, how wonderful!" Fluttershy said with an approving smile. "Why don't you sing it with me?"

Sweetie Belle cleared her throat.

"Hush now! Quiet now!
It's time to lay your sleepity head!
Said hush now! Quiet now!
It's time to go to bed!"

The joy came through in her voice, ringing throughout the entire tiny cottage.

The sound of happiness. The sound of what she longed to find once again.more.

"Okay, Sweetie, that was... "

"Driftin' off to sleep!
The exciting day behind you!
Driftin' off to sleep!
Let the joy of dream land find you!"

"Thank you, Sweetie, um... "

"Hush now! Quiet now!
Lay your sleepy head!
Said hush now! Quiet now!
It's time to go to beeeeeeeeeed!"

She almost wanted to laugh, and she almost wanted to cry, but more than anything else, she wanted to sing; to forget herself and feel only the safety of the music, even in the face of uncertainty and fear.


The next day, Rarity came to fetch Sweetie Belle from Fluttershy's cottage; and later that afternoon, the timid yellow pegasus dropped by the boutique for tea. Presumably, Fluttershy chose that time to tell Rarity exactly what had happened at the sleepover - namely, about the cockatrice - because after she'd left, Rarity cornered Sweetie Belle in the guest room with a stern look in her eyes.

After returning from Fluttershy's, Sweetie Belle had decided to isolate herself in the room her sister had set aside for her. If Rarity didn't want to spend time with her, after all, then she wasn't going to force her presence on her any longer. But the way Rarity threw open the door practically made her heart leap with joy, even though Sweetie knew that she was in deep trouble, if only because she so badly craved her big sister's attention.

"Sweetie Belle, what were you thinking?" Rarity cried angrily. "Running off like that, after some silly old chickens? Honestly! I always knew you could be difficult, but causing trouble like that for poor Fluttershy is a bit much, even for you!"

"I'm sorry, Rarity - "

"Especially when she specifically warned you about how dangerous the Everfree Forest can be! A cockatrice is bad enough, but it's a wonder that you didn't run into anything worse! I don't even want to think about what might have happened to you out there!"

Why? Sweetie Belle almost wanted to ask. Why do you care so much?

"I'm okay, though," the little white unicorn managed to feebly pipe up. "Nothing bad happened. It was just kind of scary."

"Well, it was scary for me too!" Rarity snapped.


Rarity froze. And blinked.

"Well," she said, seeming flustered. "Well, honestly, I think it would be obvious! To think that something so awful might have happened to my little sister, all because I couldn't put aside my work for a few hours? It's absolutely dreadful!"

Sweetie was still, and didn't say a word. Neither did Rarity, for a moment. Where before Rarity had seemed livid, she now seemed almost sad.

"I... " Rarity began in a halting voice. "I can't even imagine what I'd do without my darling little sister."

Ha. Rarity had been doing without her for almost a year.

Then why did you leave? Why didn't you ever come back?

Why did you go away and forget about me? About your promise?

Where did you go?

But Sweetie Belle said none of this.

Rarity's words sounded strange and forced to her, as though she were only saying them because she knew that was what she was supposed to say. Yet the sadness was real. As if Rarity knew that she had done wrong by Sweetie, but didn't even know where to begin making amends, and so instead opted to pretend that everything was fine. That nothing had changed.

The older mare looked hesitant, her gaze shifting to the side. Like she didn't know what to do or say next.

"Well," Rarity said after a moment. "I suppose... I've scolded you enough. And I've finished for the day, so we have the rest of the afternoon to spend together. What would you like to do?"

Rest of the afternoon? Sweetie Belle had been promised a week.

"Can we do anything I want?" Sweetie asked petulantly, and Rarity nodded, smiling slightly.

"Anything," she promised.

Sweetie Belle considered, and then, in a flash of inspiration, almost asked Can we sing together?

The words were right there, right on the tip of her tongue. There, in the corner of her mind, Sweetie Belle could remember her sister softly crooning that old lullaby, keeping Sweetie safe from the monsters that lurked in the dark.


She couldn't say it.

What she loved wasn't the song, but the memory it summoned. And what she loved wasn't the memory, but the feelings surrounding it. She had found security in the memory of the lullaby for so long that she no longer knew how to live without it. What she wanted was the sister she had once been so close to and who had once tried so hard to protect her, and the lullaby recalled a time when she'd had that.

If Rarity were to sing it again, that memory would forever be tainted, and she would lose that security. Because whatever Rarity promised, things had changed between them, and they were drifting apart. Sweetie didn't want to forever associate her beloved song with loss and distance. What she wanted was the comfort.

"You pick!" Sweetie Belle finally declared. "I don't really care what we do together, I just want to spend time with you."

Rarity's smile faltered slightly. "Are you sure?"

"Uh-huh! Anything's fine!"

"Well... " the elegant white unicorn said slowly. "What if we went to the spa together? Today's usually the day I go with Fluttershy, but I'm sure she won't mind if I bring you along."


They left the boutique together, Rarity leading the way and Sweetie Belle trailing behind her.

Rarity didn't look back even once. If Sweetie Belle had stopped following at some point, she likely wouldn't have noticed. Maybe she would've been relieved.

But Sweetie Belle followed anyway.

The distance, as painful as it was, was only temporary. That was what she had to believe. The sister who had once loved her so much must be hiding somewhere deep down in Rarity, and was sure to resurface soon. She had only gotten lost. After all, living apart for so long was bound to do that. If Sweetie didn't give up, then surely she would find her again.



Her oldest memory was of a song and a voice.

Keeping her safe from everything that could hurt her.

From the dark. From storms. From loneliness.

The voice.

So clear and sweet and full of love.

"Don't be scared," the mare whispered. "Nothing can hurt you here. I'll keep you safe. Go to sleep."

Hush now, quiet now...